Coppersmith Plumbing Company test drives fire-tube boilers

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Fruita Colorado lies in a valley between two mountain ranges known for their bizarre rock formations. Just a few miles east of the Utah border, and even fewer miles from the Colorado National Monument to the southeast, Fruita and its neighboring town of Grand Junction look like they were dropped on the face of Mars.

Among the rocky outcroppings and giant red monoliths is a unique, free-standing tower known as Independence Monument. Chris McLauhlin, lead installation tech for Coppersmith Plumbing Company knows just where to catch a glimpse of the 450-foot rock formation when he’s driving on Rt. 6, just like he did in late July.

Chris was headed from the Coppersmith shop in Grand Junction to a boiler retrofit job in Fruita. This was like any one of the hundreds of boilers he’s installed since joining the company 16 years ago, except for one thing.


The K2 Firetube can be piped from either the top or the bottom of the unit, a big advantage when installing in small mechanical rooms.


“I really wanted to try out a new fire-tube boiler,” sad McLaughlin. “I’ve installed a few fire-tubes from two or three different manufacturers over the years, but we install mostly Burnham brand equipment. So when I learned that US Boiler had just introduced a new K2 fire-tube, I got my hands on one as quick as I could.”

For roughly as long as they’ve been installing Burnham products, Coppersmith’s first call when it comes to boiler questions if McCoy Sales. Salesmen Mark Doyle and Tim Lindstrom are eager to help if a need arises.

Test drive

Coppersmith has been in business since 1995 and serves western Colorado with eight technicians. Owner Frank Frigetto founded the plumbing and heating business after 14 years in the trade. Born from a passion for the craft, the company’s name and logo are reminiscent of times when everything was hand-forged and built to last. And if you ask around, their reputation matches the image.

They do a wide variety of work, from low-income housing to $5 million, multi-boiler applications. Hydronic installations usually include Burnham cast-iron or Alpine condensing boilers. Over the past year though, some of the work has included K2 models. Regardless of whether they’re buying cast iron or stainless models, product comes through Grand Junction Winsupply.   Branch President, Rick Thatcher has been McCoy’s most loyal distributor in Western Colorado.


The homeowners now have a brand new, 85 MBH K2 Firetube.

Coming up this fall, a big boiler replacement project at a townhome property in Aspen, Colo., will hopefully keep Coppersmith busy for a few weeks. They’re bidding the 40-boiler retrofit right now. So McLaughlin wanted to use the single-family retrofit in Fruita to try out the K2 Firetube, hoping to use it later in Aspen.

The 95% AFUE K2 Firetube has a dimpled, stainless steel vertical fire tube heat exchanger and is available in six sizes from 85-270 MBH. A 155-MBH combi version is also available.

“This neighborhood is a retirement community where we installed all the boilers and plumbing 11 years ago,” he explained. “At the time, we were using one of the very first condensing boilers to hit the market. This call was the third we’ve received to replace a boiler.”

In actuality, the homeowner just wanted Coppersmith to fix his boiler, which he’d been tinkering with on his own, after buying parts online. As soon as the owner learned that it would cost almost as much to fix it as it would to replace it with a new stainless steel boiler, he decided that replacement was best for the 1,800 square-foot home. The very next day, McLaughlin arrived to demo the old boiler and remove the old 40-gallon indirect tank.

The old, natural gas system was stuffed under a flight of steps in the garage, feeding three zones of fin-tube baseboard. Working alone, McLaughlin quickly learned that space constraints weren’t an issue for the 85 MBH K2 Firetube. The ability to pipe the supply and return out of either the top or bottom of the boiler was a big advantage. He piped the natural gas line to the underside of the unit with an inch or two to spare, and connected the primary-secondary piping on top. A new 45-gallon indirect tank, set to priority, pulls a fourth zone off the secondary piping.

“Even by myself, everything installed smoothly except for the outdoor reset,” said McLaughlin. “The layout of these houses makes it tough to fish the wire where I want it. I’ll be ordering the wireless ODR kit next time we’re called to this neighborhood.”

A superior fire-tube

From his experience with other fire-tube boilers, McLaughin was expecting the controls to be cumbersome. After setting the warm-weather shutdown to 68°F, he realized that the interface was very similar to the intuitive controls on the Alpine, which he has in his own home. The biggest difference is that the touchscreen control is tilted up for easier viewing.

“I’ve had all sorts of electrical problems with other fire-tubes, so I was a bit concerned at first,” he said. “But I don’t know why I was concerned about it. I’ve never had a Burnham do something it’s not supposed to do. And reading the manual definitely beat trying to decipher the Korean-English I&O manuals that come with the cheap fire-tubes.”

McLaughin noted another thing that separated the K2 Firetube from other boilers, too.

“The condensate drain is solid,” he said. “I like it more than Alpine’s drain, and maybe even more than the one on the K2 Watertube.”

By the end of the first day, the boiler was fired.

On to the next one, or 40

“I went back to the home the next day to clean up wires and walk the owner through his new system,” said McLaughlin. “It was a really quick install, and with a second guy it could’ve easily been done in one day flat.”

The boiler proved to be easier to install than he had expected, though a few other things made it a fast process too. Venting was easy because the original boiler was a high-efficiency model. And the original zone vales and air strainer were left in place to help keep the cost as low as possible.

The installation in Fruita showed Coppersmith what they were hoping to learn: Whether or not the K2 Firetube would be a good choice for the row-homes in Aspen. The jobs are very similar, with well-constructed houses that don’t offer much mechanical space. The main differences in Aspen are the radiation and the altitude: Instead of fin-tube, the row homes use fan coils. And where Fruita lies at 4,500 feet above sea level, requiring a 4% input derate, Aspen rests at about 8,000.

“There’s no doubt that the K2 is my favorite fire-tube on the market,” said McLaughlin. “It might be too soon to decide if I like it more than the Alpine, but that’s the way it’s looking. With any luck, I’ll know the answer to that after we install 40 of them in Aspen this fall.”


Boiler: 85 MBH US Boiler K2 Firetube

System Circulator: Grundfos 3-speed

Flanges: Webstone

Air separator: Caleffi

Boiler drain: Red and White

Ball valves and fittings: Nibco

Zone valves: Honeywell

Backflow preventer: Watts


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